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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1654

Mr FITZGIBBON(10.12) —I am in the invidious position of having approximately three minutes to speak. I am not going to be able to get through a great deal. The Australian Labor Party and this Government have a genuine and continuing deep commitment to veterans and their families. We know that the veteran population and the war widow population are aging. We know that the aging process increases the need for care and treatment. Since coming to office this Labor Government has provided increased funds to satisfy those needs. Despite economic difficulties which are no fault of this Government, despite the need to reduce the $9.6 billion deficit we inherited, we have bolstered the Veterans' Affairs portfolio. Spending in that portfolio has increased by $1.5 billion to $3.8 billion and Veterans' Affairs now accounts for 5 per cent of the Budget. This Government, unlike the Opposition, believes that pensions, treatment and other services should continue to be provided through a Department of Veterans' Affairs that remains a separate entity. The Opposition, of course, wants to downgrade the Department of Veterans' Affairs, to amalgamate it. The Australian Financial Review on Monday confirms the Opposition's policy to amalgamate two departments. It intends to do away with the separate Department of Veterans' Affairs by amalgamating it with the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security. They are all to be combined in one big department called Community Services-under a junior Minister.

The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer) may bleat about cutbacks but instead he should refer to a redirection of funds to the most needy. Three per cent of service pensioners were affected by the assets test. But the saving of over $25m did not go on some grandiose scheme conceived by this Government; that saving of $25m has been reinvested in treatment facilities for veterans. I think the wider community is well aware-I know the veteran pensioners in my electorate are-of the wonderful job being done by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) and his staff. I pay tribute to the Minister and his staff and to all people working for the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I particularly appreciate the co-operation that I have received from the Department of Veterans' Affairs office in Newcastle where Mr Terry Johnson has given wonderful assistance in the handling of problems which I have had.

Debate interrupted.